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Places of Habits and Hearts: Church Attendance and Latino Immigrant Health Behaviors in the United States



In general, church attendance can be associated with improved health behaviors and fewer related chronic diseases, suggesting a potential opportunity to counteract worsening health behaviors among some immigrants and thereby reduce health disparities. There is a paucity of research, however, on the relationship between religious involvement and immigrants’ health behaviors and whether it varies by host or home country context.


To examine the relationship between religious involvement, measured by church attendance, with health behaviors among Latino immigrants in the United States (U.S.) and to compare the relationship of home and host country attendance with these behaviors.


Data from the randomized New Immigrant Survey, including over 1200 immigrants to the U.S. from Mexico and Central America, were analyzed. Health measures included smoking, binge drinking, physical activity, and obesity. Descriptive and multivariate logistic regression analyses were performed using measures of church attendance and ethnic/immigrant characteristics as well as other demographic and health care factors. Separate models were constructed for each behavior.


An association was found between U.S. church attendance and less smoking, less drinking, and greater physical activity but not with obesity. Threshold effects were found. However, almost no associations were found between health behaviors and home country church attendance.


The context in which people live warrants increased attention for successful health promotion initiatives for immigrant populations. The social, psychological, and religious resources in immigrant communities can be leveraged to potentially counteract worsening of chronic disease-related health behaviors of Latino immigrants in the U.S., thereby reducing health disparities.

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The author would like to acknowledge the assistance of the following during the course of the research and writing of this paper: Ana Abraído-Lanza, PhD; Angela Aidala, PhD; Nancy Foner, PhD; Joyce Moon-Howard, DrPH; Courtney Bender, PhD; and Victor Rodwin, PhD.


This study did not receive any funding.

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Correspondence to Ephraim Shapiro.

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The survey used in the study was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board of Princeton University.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable.

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Shapiro, E. Places of Habits and Hearts: Church Attendance and Latino Immigrant Health Behaviors in the United States. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities 5, 1328–1336 (2018).

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  • Immigrant
  • Latino
  • Religion
  • Health behaviors
  • Prevention
  • Health disparities